My Piano Teacher Introduced Me To A Legend: Joe Sample 1939-2014

We were introduced when I was a teen. My piano teacher at the time gave me a tape of his music. Yes, it was on a tape because I met Joe Sample before the CD was born. At that time I knew little about any music other than Gospel. My teacher often gave me tapes of various artists to listen to, but I usually didn’t listen to them because, well I was a teen. Before he gave me the Joe Sample tape, he played it for me in my lesson. I was hooked. The only problem was that the CD had not been born and with tapes you had to guess where the song you liked was. This usually meant rewinding and fast forwarding for what seemed an eternity until you gave up and decided to listen from beginning to end – which could be up to 120 minutes depending on the length of your tape. Unfortunately my new friend Joe Sample and I lost touch due to the limitations of the tape.


I never forgot how I felt when I heard that first Joe Sample song. It was a feeling of awe and wonder. I wondered who this person was and how his fingers could make music sound like that. Thankfully the CD came on the scene a few years later. One of my first CDs was of course a Joe Sample CD. By this time my piano teacher had passed away but I was so glad that he got the chance to introduce me to Joe Sample. Now, I never met Joe Sample in person, but music is powerful like that. It allows you to feel like you know the artist on a level that is different, deeper even, than how you could know someone in person.

Yesterday when I learned of Joe Sample’s passing, I was saddened. My “friend” was gone and I needed to grieve. I had long forgotten about that CD that I purchased so many years ago until last night when  I was looking through my CD collection in search of music for this year’s Big Dreams concert. Guess what I found? Yep, that Joe Sample CD.

Joe Sample CD


I smiled and said a quick thank you to my piano teacher and Joe Sample.

Now, don’t you want to know more about Joe Sample? Watch this interview with him by Zach Tate.

End The Practice Wars by Applying These 2 Laws

“It’s not what you do, but the way you do it that matters!”

Music theory. Keyboard topography. Rhythm. Ear training. Technique. All these are essentials of learning to play the piano, however, success in teaching these skills is determined by the WAY these skills are taught.

One of the biggest complaints of piano teachers and parents of piano students is that the child will not or does not want to practice. If you can relate to this, then allow me to give you a life changing piece of information:

Law of Love

Parents are busy. Sometimes they feel that they are too busy to sit and listen to their child practice piano. These same parents listen to music all the time while they are working and doing important things. So, what is the problem with listening to their child play music? It just might be that the music their child is playing is unappealing or uninteresting to the parent. Eliminate this problem by getting to know the musical tastes of the parents in your studio. A simple question in passing can get you this information. “Who’s your favorite artist / style of music / song?

Similarly, when dealing with older students (tweens and teens) there is another law you must know as a piano teacher who wants their student to practice:

Law of Friends

To sum it all up, music lessons should equip students to play music that they, their friends, and family enjoy hearing. The successful piano teacher knows this and abides by the law at all times!

Here are some additional FREE resources to help get you started on the road to ending the practice wars in your studio:

Teen Toolkit by Tim Topham: A FREE downloadable toolkit for teaching teens. A must read! Introduce the blues – no note reading, just cool sounds Free riff lessons of popular music : Keep kids practicing with cool performance opportunities

Jazz for Kids : Use 5 finger scales to teach jazz to preschoolers

2013 Jazz Education Network Conference Notes


There was a whole lot of toe-tapping, bippity bopping, swinging and swaying, musical stretching, and growing  last week at the 4th Annual JEN Conference of the Jazz Education Network! I had the privilege of attending and couldn’t wait to share some of the nuggets I picked up from the conference with the Kids and Keys readers.

In case you are unfamiliar with the Jazz Education Network or JEN,  it is an organization dedicated to
building the jazz arts community by advancing education, promoting performance, and developing new audiences.

During the conference I was able to attend several workshops that were not specifically geared to piano teaching. I found that it was VERY helpful to listen to what presenters who play saxophone, trombone, and strings had to say about music education. There were several statements that I will be applying to piano teaching and using with my students even for non-jazz repertoire. Some of the most helpful are:

1. Students want to sound good – This is not always obvious to us as teachers, but is certainly important for us to remember! Just think how much more committed students are when they know they sound good! Let’s teach them music that they like and sound good playing. Better yet, let’s give them music that their friends and families think they sound good playing!

2. Practice is Preparation For The Unexpected –  Let’s prepare students for performances so that once they are on stage they won’t have to make music happen, they can be free to let music happen!

3. Challenge students to have more than just nice performances!  – Nothing should be nice, it has to be entertaining!

4. Not rushing is a discipline of the mind – In jazz, the power comes from grooving and playing behind the beat, but the discipline of not rushing is something that EVERY musician must have!

5. Students have to be taught how to listen with music ears – They don’t usually come to us with music ears. It is up to us to help them improve their hearing – without surgery!

Thanks to the clinicians whose workshops I attended and from whom I gleaned these insights: David Guidi, Pete McGuiness, Gary Motley, Mark Gridley, and Matt Wilson.

Stay tuned tomorrow for more from the JEN Conference. I will be blogging about the session on teaching jazz to young children. In the meantime, visit Jazz Education Network’s website at to learn more about the organization and how you can get involved!

Street Musicians Make Great Music Teachers!

Recently my family and I went down to Savannah, GA for my daughter’s dance performance and while we were there we were able to sneak in some music (YAY). As we strolled along the riverfront we heard the jazzy sounds of a saxophone. So, of course we went to talk to the guy who was playing. He graciously played some Duke Ellington for us and then asked what else we wanted to hear. My kids hesitated because they didn’t want to ask him to play something that he didn’t know. Of course I was pretty sure this man could play any song, so I asked him to play Blue Bossa , a jazz standard my son is learning to play. He smiled and began to play it beautifully. My kids were amazed that he could just play it on the spur of the moment like that. The lesson – continue to study music patterns and learn as many songs as you can so you will be ready to take requests some day as well!